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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Thinking Ahead: Mission Planning in Europe

Mission planning and training, especially across joint forces, is a requirement, not a luxury

By Andrew Drwiega, Military Editor

French NH90 in the NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH) variant.

As the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) Boeing Chinook clatters toward its objective, navigation being assisted by a moving map and a pre-planned mission profile, the pilot is aware of a familiar voice filling the headphones. It is a voice they have heard several times before and they know, aside from the callsign, that the person speaking is watching their every move through the high-flying North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Airborne Early Warning E3-D Sentry flown by RAF crews.

The Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) controller advises the inbound support helicopter that RAF fast jets are currently over the objective and that the pilot can talk directly to them so that they can coordinate the slow-moving helicopter’s arrival with end of the jets’ support mission. Once again, on switching channels, one hears a familiar voice telling him that the fast-movers are returning to Combat Air Patrol (CAP) and that he is clear to proceed directly to the objective.

The control station at CAE’s MTSHATF training center at RAF Benson

A real-life scenario with one exception—it all takes place inside CAE’s Medium Support Helicopter Aircrew Training Facility (MSHATF) in the United Kingdom. The aircrews that train inside the simulators are all squadron-based aircrew, and the voices of the fighter pilots and airborne controllers are also front-line operators brought into the facility for added realism and credibility. The scenario just described is called the Thursday War, which takes place at the CAE MSHATF facility around once every three weeks.

Mission planning is a large part of the preparation, and the latest upgrades to one of the CH-47 Chinook simulators managed by CAE under contract from the UK MoD Flight Simulation and Synthetic Trainers (FsAST) project team includes the addition of forward-looking infrared (FLIR), a new moving map, and digitized instruments. In addition, upgraded on-board and ground mission planning systems gives additional benefits in terms of tactical training.

“We completed the simulator upgrades in advance of the aircraft upgrades, thus enabling RAF Chinook pilots to test and evaluate the new aircraft systems in the simulator,” said Ian Bell, managing director of CAE Aircrew Training Services. The upgrade takes into account the new JULIUS cockpit being integrated into the British Chinook fleet.

“The Chinook helicopter fleet plays a vital role in the Joint Helicopter Command’s mission, and this upgrade to one of the CH-47 simulators is consistent with our objective to ensure training systems are concurrent with the platforms they simulate,” said Wing Commander Al Dale, SO1 Simulation, Joint Helicopter Command, UK MoD. “We continue to perform more training and mission preparation in a cost-effective synthetic environment, so it is absolutely critical our simulators and training systems stay at the leading-edge of technology and capability.”

The MSHATF simulator facility is owned and operated by CAE Aircrew Training Services under a private finance initiative with the MoD. It provides training to RAF and foreign aircrew on the AW101 Merlin, Boeing CH-47 Chinook and Eurocopter Puma (which has now had its own upgrade confirmed by the UK government).

The Italian Navy NH-90 will get the AgustaWestland MPAS mission planning system by 2013.
AgustaWestland has seen the need for mission planning systems and has recently supplied the Italian Navy with a Mission Planning & Analysis System (MPAS) for its new NH-90 NFH fleet when it comes into service. The order, between AgustaWestland and the NATO Helicopter Management Agency (NAHEMA), will not only serve to support NH-90 NFH crews, but will also be compatible with other European armed forces planning systems and the Navy’s other AgustaWestland helicopter, the AW101. This makes the MPAS a multi-mission and multi-platform mission planning system. AgustaWestland states that the MPAS will also provide “the growth capability for supporting the future MTTH variant of the NH90 helicopter dedicated to tactical transport.”

The Italian Navy should be able to operate the system by the end of 2013 when it will be deployed across the Italian Navy’s bases and ships, supported by a three-year support package from AgustaWestland.

The MPAS is based around AgustaWestland’s existing Skyflight flight and mission planning system. It assists aircrew in the acquisition, management, processing and analyzing of data used for helicopter missions. In the civilian world, it has been designed for operational and training missions for both on-shore and offshore customers. Skyflight is currently in service with the Royal Netherlands Navy for NH-90 mission planning and it is being used to develop mission planning for the existing WAH-64 Apache and forthcoming AW159 Wildcat, both operated by the British Army.

In February 2012 AgustaWestland announced that it had chosen Critical Software Technologies, a safety and mission-critical systems specialist, to work on a new mission planning system for the British Army’s helicopters. Critical will be tasked with adding functionality as well as managing the systems integration. Mike Cook, procurement manager at AgustaWestland, stated, “Critical Software was chosen due to its successful track record in developing mission-critical software for high integrity systems, as well as its focus on quality and the ability to meet a very demanding schedule.” Brian Luff, chairman at Critical Software Technologies, added: “Our job is to help make this system the best it can be, minimizing risk while optimizing performance.”

Helipsys, from Sagem (part of the Safran Group) is a mission planning system that is already in service with French Air Force. In service since 2008, it can be used networked or individually to plan complex missions using a set of advanced and optimized tools including: 3D, hyposmetry, inter-visibility, sight line calculation, conflict detection, 2D and 3D flight simulation, calculations for tactical flights and ground proximity, etc.

According to Sagem, the system manages different types of helicopter involved in each mission (whether attack, transport or reconnaissance) together with their configuration. So far the system will work across Eurocopter’s Tiger attack helicopter, as well as the NH-90, Puma/Cougar and Gazelle.

Once the system is programmed, it will give crews printed documents as well as data for the helicopters avionics systems, including maps, mission parameters, the tactical situation, aeronautical information, route markers, flight plans, rates, onboard equipment configuration, etc. Once the flight is over, it can then be used for the mission debrief.

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